I was in Israel last week, and while walking in Jerusalem with a friend I suddenly lost my bearings and said in surprise, “I’m lost!” The friend replied, “No you’re not – I know exactly where we are.”
For a brief moment on a familiar Jerusalem street, I failed to recognize that which was known to me, and I believed that I was lost. And perhaps I was. Had I been alone, I might have floundered until I found my way. But I was not alone, and my companion kept me safe, kept me grounded.
I was reminded of this when reading this week’s Torah portion, because when we talk about the Children of Israel’s sojourn in the desert, we often think of them as being lost and wandering aimlessly in the wilderness.
But this is imagination at play, because the Torah makes it clear that their trip was neither aimless nor without a guide, because God accompanied them every step of the way.
They encountered the Divine at God’s “home” on Mount Sinai, received the Law, and then gladly accepted God as their guide on their journey, which was far more important spiritually than it was physically.
And rather than wandering as a rag-tag, disorganized bunch, they apparently marched in well-organized groups that were carefully arranged around the portable Sinai they had built, the Tabernacle that was God’s home among them.
So, were they lost? Not really; they may not have known the route they were taking, but they knew the destination, and they knew Who was leading.
Being lost isn’t always a physical experience. It can be existential, when losing one’s bearings is psychological rather than physical. It can happen in a flash; one moment everything seems normal and the next the world looks strange and unfamiliar. Truths of which we were certain begin to waver. It is easy to feel lost and alone, even in the midst of people who love us. Depression, fear, uncertainty, all can strike without warning.
As I learned in Jerusalem last week, when we feel lost it is important have support, whether it be a person, a belief, or an entire community that can help guide us. The ancient Israelites in the wilderness had the physical presence of God, a physical house for God that they carried with them.
And for us? Perhaps an answer is to build a home for God in our hearts. Yes, many of us have people on whom we rely, and that’s wonderful. And many of us are struggling on our own, dealing with losses and feeling lost. My prayer is that we each can create a home for God within our own hearts, giving us the inner strength to hear God’s voice say, “You’re not lost; I’m here and I know exactly where we are.”